Kindness In Death

, , , , | Healthy | November 14, 2017

I used to work in an oncology unit specialising in gastrointestinal cancers – the sort of thing that, by the time it got to us, all we could do was arrange for palliative treatment to make the time the patient had left longer and more comfortable. I handled phone calls from the patients and families, all of whom were obviously upset and as a result not as thoughtful as they might have been.

Sometimes, they had a right to be abrasive, though. One man whose mother needed an urgent chemotherapy booking had been left hanging for weeks, and the registrar who was supposed to be handling the booking hadn’t done anything despite the fact that her prognosis was dwindling all the time. Eventually, I got fed up; I grabbed the patient file and the documentation that he hadn’t signed yet, interrupted the consultant at lunch, stood over him until he checked and signed the document, delivered everything to the ward personally, and, apologising to the still-furious son of the patient, told him his mother had an appointment the following day.

Less than a month later, I got word that the patient in that story had died. Two days after that, reception told me that said patient’s son was on his way to my office. I was sure he was coming to berate me to my face… but when he turned up, it was with a small silk rose and a small box of chocolates. He told me that he wanted to apologise for losing his temper, and tell me how grateful he was for how hard I’d worked to see that his mother got proper care.

I am never going to forget the man who managed to be so thoughtful of someone else even with such a recent bereavement. It’s the yardstick to which I hold my behaviour to this day.

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